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Album Review

by The Phoenix Foundation


Review Date
19th April 2010
Reviewed by
Gareth Meade

Over the course of three albums The Phoenix Foundation have charmed, thrilled and delighted a growing legion of fans, myself included. With every eagerly anticipated release, my expectations have almost invariably been exceeded. I say ‘almost’ because last year the band released the Merry Kriskmass EP; a pleasant and unobtrusive effort that I hoped wasn’t a sign of things to come. While it was entirely listenable, it just wasn’t essential by The Phoenix Foundation’s standards. As it turns out, that EP’s style hasn’t been carried over to fourth album Buffalo; but unfortunately the aforementioned adjectives have.

Buffalo is an inconsistent album, suffering from a confused track order while also featuring some of the band’s least necessary material yet. It feels uncomfortable to describe The Phoenix Foundation as pleasant or meandering, but that is exactly how proceedings begin with Eventually. At five and a half minutes it doesn’t qualify as a quaint introduction to the album and nor does its melody deviate enough to deter you from wanting to move onto the next song.

First single and title track “Buffalo” is at least a jauntier effort, characterising the bands endless charm. It’s a reminder that The Phoenix Foundation are never ones to take themselves or their music too seriously. And yet it still seems half baked thanks to an interminable midsection. Almost as if they got halfway through and then couldn’t decide where to go from there.

The subsequent three tracks are more surefooted. Sounding like an outtake from Luke Buda’s solo album Vesuvius, “Flock of Hearts” has a simple melody that belies the songs intricacy. Meanwhile, “Pot “is the kind of musical flippancy that forces a smile onto your face as you sing along to every word. “Bitte Bitte” is more complex, but is similar in its cheerful dash. It may well be the closest this album gets to a “40 Years”, “Going Fishing” or “Damn the River”.

By now we’re only halfway through, but the best has come and gone. “Skeleton” and “Orange & Mango” just seem uncharacteristically unnecessary. Which is a bold statement when talking about a band that has Bruiser (Miami 4000) in their oeuvre, but at least that songs experimentation was interesting. “Bailey’s Beach” once again evokes words like ‘pleasant’, floating to the back of your consciousness rather than commanding your attention. Things get better on Wonton, which sees The Phoenix Foundation attempting to stretch themselves beyond their comfort zone. Finally, “Golden Ship” builds from gentle acoustic guitar into a fuzzed out crescendo, righting some of the wrongs of the tracks that wander aimlessly. It would serve as a great pre-encore finale at a live performance and is a strong finish to the album.

It was probably inevitable, after three exceptional albums, that The Phoenix Foundation would falter. And it’s only because of the strength of those releases that Buffalo could be described as anything less than stellar. There are flashes of brilliance here, just not the consistent brilliance we’re used to.

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